Matt Barrett is a 46 year old man who has battled 11 types of cancers since the age of two, including basal cell nevus syndrome, a genetic form of cancer passed down through his family for six generations. He has had over 1,700 surgeries and has lived with unbearable pain and fatigue for decades.
Matt has also been homeless off and on for much of his adult life. He has lived in Portland, in Los Angeles under a bridge with The Trolls (a group of homeless street kids) and in what is called, The Hole in Seattle. Until last September, he lived in a tent in Tent City 3 in Seattle for three years.
In addition to the battle of illness and being without a home, Matt has also lived with discrimination that most of us cannot fathom. Due to the surgeries Matt has had on his face, he has endured stares, dirty looks and has even has been asked to leave stores because he was “scaring” someone’s child.
You would think after a life of being treated this way, that Matt would be a bitter and angry person. Nevertheless, for those who take the time to get to know Matt, they find him to be a very kind, loving and giving man. What’s more, they are inspired and their lives are deeply enriched.
In 2011, Freelance Photographer, Ilona Berzups was so moved by Matt’s story that she embarked on a photo essay project. Read full story here.
Also in 2011, Matt was determined to travel to Colorado to attend the Invisible Disabilities Association’s Awards Banquet and to spend time with a fellow high school classmate. He had been wanting to come for many years, but after getting more bad news from the doctors about the tumors in his brain, nothing was going to stop him.
When IDA found out he was coming, we re-arranged the evening’s schedule and invited Matt to be a surprise, Special Guest Speaker. Hall of Fame Speaker and nurse, Karyn Buxman, RN, MSN gave a short introduction before Matt arrived on stage. Just that glimpse into his life threw the attendees to their feet when he stepped up to the podium.
Matt briefly shared about his journey and appreciation for IDA’s compassion, awareness and support for him and for others. There was not a dry eye in the house, as lives were changed by Matt’s incredible lifelong story of perseverance in the midst of incredible hardship and pain.
By sharing Matt’s journey, our hope is that his struggles, pain and sheer courage will be Invisible No More and people will learn to look beyond our preconceptions. Let’s not judge others by they way they look on the outside. Instead, let’s give love to one another and find out what they have been through, what they need and who they are on the inside.
UPDATE 9/2/14 – With heavy hearts, we regret to inform you all that Matt Barrett passed away.
UPDATE 10/8/2012 – Meet Matt in Person at the 2012 IDA Honor Awards Banquet!
UPDATE 12/17/11 – Matt’s collection of poetry, A View from the Street, is now available online through his eStore.
Video of IDA Special Guest, Matt Barrett, Speaking at the Awards Banquet
Tent City 3 (where Matt lived for three years)
Matt Barrett’s Website, A View from the Street
Order Matt Barrett’s Poetry Book, A View from the Street
Ilona’s Photo Essay (now available in print), Walking with Giant – One man’s battle with homelessness and debilitating illness.
Lifelong Battle with Illness Claims Man’s Face, FAMILY but Not His Spirit. Martha Kang. September 27, 2013. Picked up by Associated Press – Man’s long struggle with cancer nears end. October 15, 2013.
Homeless in Seattle (an organization Matt supports)
Celebrate Life Event for Matt Barrett. May 25, 3013. Seattle, Washington.